Kjirsten Lee, HN’s equine law columnist, outlines the ownership transfer process for a few of the major breed and show organizations — it’s not as simple as just a bill of sale!
Congratulations! You’ve just bought your first horse. You signed the Bill of Sale (sale contract), paid the seller, and took your new horse home. Now you are organizing your paperwork to have everything ready for the next show season and you realize: you don’t have any registration papers for your new horse. You contact the seller and ask them to send over any registration information they have. Once they do, you discover you aren’t sure how to transfer the horse into your name. What do you do?
A horse can be registered with multiple organizations, each with its own way of transferring ownership. We will break down a few of these. The best way to find out how to transfer ownership in a specific organization is to contact the organization directly or look at their website and their rules.
The Jockey Club
I recently sold my OTTB mare. In the bill of sale, I agreed to take all steps necessary to transfer ownership in any applicable registry. Since we only competed once this year, I had only applied for a yearly Horse Identification Number from United States Dressage Federation (USDF), so the only ownership paperwork that needed changing was the mare’s Jockey Club registration. Lucky for me, The Jockey Club has one of the simpler processes for transferring ownership. On the back of the mare’s Jockey Club papers is a table to document ownership. I simply wrote the name of the new owner, the date, and that it was a private sale, and signed my name. Done!
Note: this might not be acceptable for a transfer of a Thoroughbred racehorse who is going to continue racing or be used for breeding, where the new owner must have a Jockey Club membership. However, it is perfectly acceptable for transferring ownership of an off-track Thoroughbred who is embarking on a new career as a sporthorse.
American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA)
Transferring a registered Quarter Horse is done through a form submitted to the AQHA along with the applicable fee and original registration certificate. AQHA recommends checking with the seller to make sure they have the original registration certificate and a transfer report before exchanging any money. This due diligence is best practice in all sales and purchases. The Association also has a helpful Frequently Asked Questions section on their website which addresses situations of multiple ownership or skipped ownership transfers.
United States Equestrian Federation (USEF)
The USEF has a specific form that must be completed to transfer ownership. The cost is based on whether the horse has an active USEF recording, an inactive or expired recording, a USHJA registration only, or if the horse is being transferred within a family. You can also request a name change for your horse.
Sidenote: If you are leasing a horse and the horse will be shown under the lessee’s ownership, the lessee must fill out a Lease Registration Form. This form allows the lessee to appear as the bona fide owner for the duration of the lease, for purposes of entering and competing at horse shows. The horse is returned to the true owner’s name at the end of the lease.
United States Dressage Federation (USDF)
The USDF has its own specific form for transferring ownership. USDF also offers guidelines for what to do when you have a USDF Registration Certificate and alternatives for if the certificate is not available. If the certificate is not available, the USDF will accept a copy of the breed papers registered in the name of the new owner, a copy of the breed papers showing the signature of the current USDF owner signing the horse over to the new owner, or a statement or bill of sale with the signature of the current owner stating that they have sold the horse. All of these must be submitted with the USDF ownership transfer form.
If you have no registration certificate, no breed papers, and no signed bill of sale (you won’t be in this category if you have read my articles regarding when and why you need a contract!), the USDF will accept a USDF Transfer of Ownership Form II, which must be notarized.
United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA)
The USHJA charges $20 to transfer ownership. The USHJA uses the USEF Horse Transfer Form and requires a copy of the bill of sale, signed by the last recorded owner(s), to be submitted to USHJA along with the form.
American Saddlebred Registry
The American Saddlebred Registry has a more complicated transfer form to ensure a complete and accurate chain of ownership. Of note is the “Caution to Buyers” statement on the form: “Buyers are advised to inspect a horse’s official Certificate of Registration prior to purchase to verify that the Seller’s name is the last recorded owner listed on the certificate, and that the information on the Certificate of Registration correctly identifies the horse.” The seller is responsible for recording and reporting all changes of ownership to the Registry. The seller is also responsible for any fees, unless the seller and buyer have an alternative agreement.
If there is a dispute regarding ownership of a horse, most registries will refrain from getting involved until the dispute is resolved through agreement by the parties or a court action. Buyers can avoid lengthy and frustrating disputes by have the paperwork for transferring ownership ready for the seller to sign at the time of purchase. A cautious buyer would then take those papers and send them to the appropriate registry themselves. The required payment, if it is to be paid by the seller, may be taken out of the purchase price.
Having this paperwork prepared may not always be practical. In such cases, a buyer should make sure the bill of sale includes a provision for transferring ownership, putting the full responsibility on the seller to complete the required forms and send them to the appropriate organization, along with the necessary payment. If the contract a seller presents to a buyer does not include such a provision, the buyer should insist on adding it before signing and transferring any funds.
For more of Kjirsten’s articles on equine law, click here to open a list.
Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an equine attorney with rb LEGAL, LLC, in Golden Valley, MN. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses, as well as general legal issues that horse people may encounter. You can follow her on Twitter at @KMLee_Esq. Kjirsten and her OTTB Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by reading and/or commenting on this post. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.